Sharing one stage is Swahili Blues’ way

With Simon Coaster on bass guitar (first left), Joseph Nyayamba on drums, Kilimantinde Seleiman on congas and his father Henry Mkanyia on lead guitar (first right), Leo Mkanyia feels the “Swahili Blues” band is ready to disseminate music that can be identified to Tanzania.


MASTER guitarist Henry Mkanyia was adamant his son, Leo should follow another career. That was until he found his son playing a classic local song, much to his surprise in an impressive way.

It was then that the father decided to give Leo his wish, then started teaching him all that he knew. Fifteen years have passed since then.

Today, Baba Leo is pleased he had taken those steps then. In fact all of the senior Mkanyia’s children play music while at home but it is only Leo, the second child out of four, who has made it his profession.

He had started some time before teaming- up with his father, after the Tanzania Brothers, formed by musicians split from Mlimani Park, had broken up.

It was then that father and son came together in a band called Swahili Blues, which is being led by Leo. In the conversation with the ‘Daily News’ the Senior Mkanyia explained how this came about. “Leo asked me for us to come together and form a sort of research band that plays traditional music but in a modern fashion.

I had expressed such a desire to him some time before, so when he said this I agreed. We then put our ideas together and until today, we’re together,” he said.

This conversation had taken place last week Wednesday evening, some minutes before the band had to climb the stage, as the main act to close the establishment’s first “Barazani” for the year. It was then that senior Mkanyia made it clear that he has never regretted making the move to be together with his son.

He, maintains that he can see how he has advanced, as a musician, from where he was 15 years ago and has not got any problem whatsoever from being in his son’s band. Afterall, he says, when they were putting the band together, he had agreed with his son who would be the leader and who the advisor when necessary.

“This arrangement suited me fine then and still does today,” the senior Mkanyia says. Further, he added, it has never caused any misunderstanding between them and “never will”.

In MPO he was responsible for close to 30 musicians, he says, so having to lead five people would not be a trouble for him. However, that’s not his role with Swahili Blues. This is to help out in whatever way they want, based on his experience.

Control, he maintains has to be left to the youngsters, who he is prepared to be behind. Both father and son told the ‘Daily News’ in two separate conversations that they want to continue working together, fulfilling what they see as their duty to local music.

That is why they are prepared to dig out old traditional musical characteristics and mould them into something that carries a Tanzania identity. When talking to Leo he referred to their music as also having Blues and Afrobeat elements in it.

The Blues he talks about is not like the one from the USA, he quickly adds but a happy blues. In it, he says there are guitar elements from the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is also some “Zilipendwa” features and purely pentatonic scales. There is a combination of many things in what they call “Swahili Blues”.

The easy talking, approachable Leo also told the ‘Daily News’ he feels good being together with his father. Just having someone, who not only surpasses him in age but also experience, he says is a joy. Whenever there’s a technical problem, he’s there to sort it out and get them back on the tracks again.

It’s like being on the big seas, he suggested, with an experienced sailor. Now, when it comes to dealing with the varied characters within the society, he says his father knows how to talk to people in a much more experienced way than any other band member.

This, Leo says is a very much cherished achievement, which the band benefits from having the senior Mkanyia on board. “My Dad and I cannot have any problems because we agreed from the beginning. When I’m at home, I’m his son. When we’re at work, I’m the boss. That’s all there is to it, at work my say is the last.

When we’re at home he has the last say. So there’s no confusion and no problem,” Leo said. Just in case the point had not reached home, he went on to emphasise that he only signs contracts when he feels it’s right for the band.

He is the one who manages the band and handles its day-to-day running. It is in this manner that with his father on lead guitar, Joseph Nyayamba on drums, Simon Coaster on bass guitar and Kilimantinde Seleiman on congas,they have taken on the task to disseminate music that can be identified to Tanzania.

Leo is satisfied to see how the band has progressed to where they are now. He sees them as having reached a good position because what started as an idea to disseminate their music is now a reality. They have even reached to other countries in Africa and even other cities, such as London- UK.

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